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The Tabot festival in Bengkulu
Colorful display of Islamic culture

A visit to the city of Bengkulu, West Sumatra province, is not complete without a visit to the annual Tabot festival. This festival is held every year at the start of the Islamic month of Muharam, based on the regular calendar this means that this event moves forward about ten days every year.

The festival itself is held to remember the tragedy that struck Hasan Husein. Hasan Husein is a grandchild of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The tragedy took place in the month of Muharam in the year 61 of the Islamic calendar, when Husein was traveling to the area currently known as Iraq. He was attacked by troops of Yazid when he was near Karbala, and died consequently.

The name Tabot originates from the Arabic word of At-Taubat, which means as much as 'miniature of the real story to remember Hasan Husein'. The tradition of organising the festival was brought to Indonesia by Indians from the Punjab region, which arrived in Bengkulu in the year 1336. But the British Gurkha troops also brought the tradition to the area in 1685.

Several events are organised during the Tabot festival. The festival is held from 1 to 10 Muharam according to the Islamic calendar. A procession is held in which sand is brought during a traditional ceremony. This sand is eventually placed at the Grega, a kind of mausoleum where the body of Husein is buried.

People also visit a number of shrine-like structures and miniatures of the mausoleum are carried through the streets of Bengkulu in a procession as well. These miniatures are judged and eventually brought to the 'battlefield of Karbala', which is about three kilometers away from the main location of the festival itself.

With bringing the tabot to the ceremonial battle field of Karbala, the climax of the festival has been reached. Thousands of people will be watching along the roads during this procession of hundreds of tabot to see if their favorite one shows up as well. This yearly returning festival is one of the most important festivities in the city and attracts regional, national and more international tourists every year.

The tabot itself are brought through the city of Bengkulu by the group of people that have built it earlier. The tabot are made from bamboo and are often richly decorated with all kinds of colors and lights. In the evening, the smaller and larget tabot are put on display and lit up with bright and colorful lights in all kinds of sizes and shapes. During the procession, music is played as well.

The Tabot festival also offers other activities than just the procession. There are a number of contests to be won every year; among them is a traditional horsecart race, performances of the tabot dance and other forms of art and culture. Most of the activities of the festival are held in and around Balai Raya Semarak Bengkulu, the residence of the governor, on the field of the regional police of Bengkulu.

Location map of The Tabot festival in Bengkulu

Last revised on May 14, 2011
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